Here it is! My latest work for Knitting Magazine is a fairisle jacket with asymmetric front fastening detail, using Rowan Felted Tweed DK. As ever with commissions like these, work takes place a good few months before publication: I was creating this during midsummer, which is not the best time of year to be knitting fairisle with wool/alpaca blend yarn! Still, time has passed, and one tends to forget the hard slog involved. Then you see professional photos of your work and almost fail to recognise it: Did I create that? When did it happen? It all seems so long ago!
I tend to be completely absorbed in the task at hand when working, and am glad I had the presence of mind to take photos of my work in progress at the time. As ever, the creative process takes place in relatively unglamorous, unromantic surroundings. The very start of this process involved a brief asking for designs and textures with an autumnal, English feel. Amongst other things there were pictures of checks and herringbone tweeds to give us an idea, and as you might guess I took my cue from those.
Technically, I set myself a challenge by submitting a design with an asymmetric front and dolman sleeves. I wanted to create a relaxed, easy to wear, outdoorsy garment with an edge about it, and it was easy to focus on shape and detail to create that edge because the fairisle pattern provides enough of a traditional, heritage feel.
Squared paper is one of my best design friends. It is with me nearly every step of the way, helping me to work out how a photo or an initial sketch or idea will work when transmuted into tiny little boxes, each of which represents a knitted stitch; and later again, when I draw out the design and use that technical drawing to write the instructions. For fairisle, squared paper works brilliantly. The final fairisle pattern originated from a classic herringbone – I ended up chopping up, inverting, rotating, rearranging the various strips of a herringbone tweed and they ended up looking like a diamond or check pattern:
I realised that the more lines of symmetry a fairisle pattern has, the more pleasurable it is to knit. It is easy to get into a rhythm, easy to programme the pattern repeat into your brain, and – for two-handed fairisle knitters like me – both hands are doing a fairly equal amount of work. I’d been vaguely aware of this when knitting fairisles by other designers, but had never been able to work out why I preferred some patterns more than others. Creating a fairisle design from scratch – I say ‘from scratch’ because I didn’t do any research or consult any stitch dictionaries, but given that knitting has been around for hundreds of years and every country has some form of knitting in its culture, it’s pretty likely that someone, somewhere at some time has done something similar to me – really helped me to understand and articulate this. It is another example of why symmetry and rhythm are so crucial to knitting, and another reason why so many people find it soothing and relaxing. Fairisle projects are often a big undertaking and require lots of commitment, so creating a pattern that was equally pleasurable to knit and make up was crucial – particularly as the design includes a number of long rows on the back piece when knitting the sleeves cuff to cuff!
Here’s a small gallery outlining the various stages of knitting up:
When finishing up I oversewed the collar to the main body to reduce bulk and ensure the collar wasn’t too erect. I felt that a more relaxed neckline would be better overall. I’m not a fan of stiff collars but if you want a more erect collar, change to smaller needles when the dart shaping has been completed and then work to the depth stated on the pattern, or vary this depending on how high up you’d like the collar to stand when worn.
After that, buttons were sewn on and the finished design was packed up and posted away. It was a huge undertaking in the space of six weeks and involved many long days, but it was amazing to see my ideas come to life as the knitting grew. By the time I cast off the last stitch and collapsed onto the sofa, I was very happy to have produced something that resembled my original idea! That was the last I saw of it until a couple of weeks or so ago…which brings this little post full circle. Now it is available to buy – the November issue goes on sale today, i.e. Thursday 23rd October – and I can share it all with you, my very first fairisle design to appear in print.